Showcase Filmmaker Spotlight: Cameron Clay
By Travis Trew, Programming Manager
A native of the D.C. area, Cameron Clay came to Philly to attend Temple University, where he’s about to start his junior year. His first film, Seeing Things, is about a young man haunted by emotional demons after being diagnosed with a rare eye disease.
PFS: How did you get into making movies?
CC: I always loved movies. Growing up, my parents would always take us to the movie theater, and we would movie-hop all day. We would see three or four movies in a day sometimes. Back then, film was more like an amusement park than art to me. It wasn’t until high school when I got into reading film criticism and began to see film as art. I’d played football all of my life and wanted to play football in college and become a physical therapist. But then in my last year of high school I tore my ACL. So the offers kind of slowed down, and my chances of playing at a D1 school quickly disappeared. But I wanted to go to the best school I could possibly go to. So I ended up at Temple for kinesiology. My best friend from home ended up going to Temple so we were roommates. He majored in film. I started watching my roommate do all of this work in film, and I thought it was really cool. I started getting involved in film projects. By the spring semester of my freshman year I decided to change my major to film.
PFS: How did Seeing Things originate?
CC: It’s funny, I think a lot of my ideas come from just one image. Once in the middle of the night I woke up and was walking around my dorm room in the dark. And do you know that feeling when you can see something out of the corner of your eye, but when you look nothing is actually there? That happened to me a few times, and the idea for Seeing Things originated from that. I developed the plot and character around that one image and concept.
PFS: It’s a little funny that your background is in studying the human anatomy, and you made a film focused on someone with a physical ailment.
CC: I’ve never thought about it that way, but you’re absolutely right!
PFS: You’ve mentioned that your experience moving to Philly and starting at a new school influenced the film. How did those feelings make their way into the film?
CC: I think any time you leave home and move to a new place there’s always this feeling of alienation or isolation, even if you have friends there. You might not know the culture; it could be similar but still really different from what you are accustomed to. Looking back on the film, I can definitely see how those emotions ended up on the page. I still had friends and a social life, but there was still that feeling of alienation and isolation.
PFS: The film is interesting because you could just watch it as a straightforward drama, but there are also some genre elements to it, like the looming figure of the shadow in the background at the end. Was there a conscious decision to incorporate aspects of horror?
CC: Yeah, I’m a huge horror fan. I like tip-toeing that line between straightforward elements and elements that make you debate what’s real. I set out to make a horror film with Seeing Things. It’s funny, because when I was writing it and initially going into production I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to make a horror film!” But now I don’t see it as one.
PFS: Are there any particular horror directors whose approach influenced you?
CC: There is one film that really lit a fire under me to get into filmmaking, and it’s not even really horror: It Comes at Night, which came out a couple of years ago. It’s a family drama, but it has this core aesthetic that is very, very upsetting. And that quality leads me to another film, Hereditary, which came out last year. It’s probably the most upsetting movie I have ever seen. It gets under your skin by making you care about the characters and the emotions that they would feel. And then when the horror aspects of the film come into play, it’s all the more effective. I think a lot of the horror films I look up to now are newer. We are in kind of a renaissance, with the likes of Jordan Peele, Ari Aster, etc. They’re doing new things but also paying homage to traditional horror movies.
PFS: Do you see yourself continuing to work in that horror vein?
CC: I’m currently moving away from horror in a way. After finishing Seeing Things I realized that a lot of my vision isn’t for horror. It may be horror-like aesthetically, but it doesn’t necessarily follow any of the other conventions of horror.
PFS: You’re credited as the composer on the film too. Do you have a background in music?
CC: Seeing Things was my first film and the first time I made music for film. I’m not a fan of using music off of YouTube, so I just decided that I was going to try and do it myself. I’d never really had an interest in making music before, but when I want to make something I’m really particular about it. So the only way I was going to make it sound the way I wanted was to do it myself. I actually enjoyed it a lot, and ended up doing all but one of the musical pieces in the film.
PFS: Well I’d never have known it was your first score.
CC: Thank you!
PFS: Obviously you’re still in school. Do you have anything you’re working on?
CC: I have two more years left at Temple and I just got accepted into the Directing BFA program, so I’m pretty excited about that. I’m currently working in post-production on something I shot in February, Coming to Dinner: Echo, which is one part of an anthology series inspired by the 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. That has been kind of a struggle, because the premise for my short is so complex, but it should be done by early fall. The other three shorts were made by completely different directors and writers, but they are all really unique and interesting, so I’m super excited about that project.
Seeing Things will be screening on Thursday, July 11 at the Philadelphia Film Center’s Black Box as part of Philly Film Showcase, an exhibition supporting new work by talented, up-and-coming local filmmakers.